Varadkar meets EU leaders who learnt English in Ireland

It is no surprise that three European leaders took language classes in the State, experts say

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel, Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photograph: Twitter

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel, Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photograph: Twitter

 

When you walk past the throngs of English-language students visiting Ireland this summer, you might be walking past tomorrow’s leaders of the free world.

A photograph tweeted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Friday from the EU summit in Brussels showed him beside three of his counterparts, each of whom spent a portion of their formative years here.

In the tweet, Mr Varadkar mentioned his “pre-dinner chat with the three prime ministers who spent time in Ireland learning English as school kids”, referring to Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez, Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel.

Although there is scant detail on when, where, or at what age the three leaders arrived here, they will have been part of an ever-growing stream of European youth selecting Ireland as a destination of choice to learn the English language.

“It comes as no surprise,” said Gerry O’Sullivan, head of Ireland’s Erasmus+ programme at the Higher Education Authority, of the three men’s early-life sojourns.

The Erasmus+ programme has seen thousands of third-level students from other EU countries file in and out of the State in increasing numbers.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise . . . that the solidarity that the European Union is showing Ireland now with its Brexit difficulties is because Ireland has been very outward-looking for the last 30 years,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan used to take in students from Spain himself, but he admitted: “I don’t think we ever housed the Spanish prime minister.”